By Carolyn Marnon – The State Wayne Theatre is celebrating their 70th anniversary in 2016 after having proudly served the City of Wayne since 1946.
It’s hard to miss the bright lights on the theatre at night, beckoning all to reflect on the movie-going experience of yesteryear. In a press release last year, owner Cory Jacobson announced the completion of a project to replace all 1,152 incandescent marquee lamps with new LED style energy-efficient lamps on the theatre’s marquee. The marquee is one of the finest remaining examples of a 1940’s style movie theatre marquee in Michigan and throughout the country.
Within the last few years, new reclining seating was installed in every auditorium and first run films are shown every week. With all the updates, Puff Dragon still stands guard over one of the auditoriums, an icon for many lovers of the quaint old theatre.
When it was built in 1946, the theatre was considered an art-deco masterpiece. The theatre is a big part of Wayne’s downtown history. When the idea for painting a mural in the city came up, the side of the theatre seemed like the perfect place to put it. The mural was designed and painted in an art deco style by David Fichter and Joshua Winer.
Cory and his team have spent the better part of 2016 obtaining photographs chronicling the history of the theatre over the past seven decades. Since it opened, the outside of the theatre has had few noticeable changes. The majority of the changes have occurred inside to accommodate the ever-changing movie industry. The one constant is that the building has remained in downtown Wayne and is a place that everyone knows and remembers.
Walter Shafer was the original owner of the theatre. He came to Michigan in 1921 to manage the original Fox Theatre located on Washington Blvd. He helped direct the building of the new Fox Theatre now on Woodward Avenue. He worked for another theatre company after that before he came to Wayne where he negotiated with the owner of the closed Wayne Theatre building to lease it. The depression came and Mr. Shafer and his family lost their home in Grosse Pointe. They moved to a log house in Wayne that his children called the “death house.” He was broke.
Running the leased theatre became a family affair. He worked hard to grow the business, and by 1939, the Shafer Wayne Theatre was drawing up to 2,000 customers a night. In 1945, he started construction on the new State Theatre in Wayne and ran it in conjunction with the Shafer Wayne Theatre until 1952 when the Shafer Wayne closed.
After 40 years in the theatre industry, Walter retired. The State Theatre was taken over by his two sons, Charles and Martin.
In 1964, Charles and Martin completely renovate the theatre with an oriental theme while creating a new lobby, foyer and snack bar concession stand. The famous dragons seen on the auditorium walls were created by Anton Mom, an artist from Holland.
With the introduction of cable and videotape making changes in the industry, the opportunity to earn more revenue came. To take advantage of these changes, the brothers split the theatre’s single screen into two auditoriums. The pro of this act was that they could show two different movies and thus attract more viewers. The con was that the split made each theater screen smaller and sight lines were impaired. Soon after the splitting of the screen, the brothers sold the theatre to National Amusements.
This is where the story ends until 1991 when the City of Wayne bought the vacant building for $316,970. The deed prohibited the showing of first run movies. Plans were drawn up to split the theatre into three auditoriums, to renovate the lobby, renovate the former barber shop into new restrooms on the main floor and add a stage area for live performances.
In 1992, Mr. Shafer’s company came back to run the theatre for the city and to help coordinate the renovations. A fourth auditorium was added.
On October 16, 2007 the history mural was dedicated and then re-dedicated the following year after additional panels were completed.
The film industry entered the digital era and 35 millimeter film was becoming obsolete. The city entered into an agreement in 2012 with Cory Jacobson and Phoenix Theatres to manage the theater and coordinate the necessary improvements to digital cinema.
With city finances declining, it became necessary for the city to focus their resources on other things. An agreement was struck between Phoenix Theatres and the City of Wayne to change ownership of the theatre. This switch in ownership allowed Phoenix to invest in reclining chairs for all the auditoriums.
The theatre is profitable and employs over 18 people. It brings state-of-the-art digital cinema to Wayne in a nostalgic way.
If you would like to learn more, visit the website at www.phoenixmovies.net/state-wayne-anniversary. Cory invites you to share pictures of the theatre you may have for a photo gallery on the anniversary site. He also invites you to share stories of your memories of the theatre. If you share your story, it might be selected to be shown on the big screen!